Monthly Archives: April 2018

161. Anzac Day 1918: For England

This post looks at the celebration of Anzac Day in 1918. At the same time, it also traces the intimate relationship between the celebration of Empire Day and Anzac Day over the course of the War and notes how Anzac Day grew from, and eventually eclipsed, Empire Day.

Post 3 looked at Empire Day (24 May) in the Shire of Alberton in 1914 when celebrations for Empire Day in 1914 were relaxed, even if the spectre of trouble in Ireland – potentially even civil war – was present.

One year later, Australia, as part of the Empire, was at war and Empire Day was celebrated  almost exactly one month after the landing at Gallipoli. The timing inevitably raises questions about how much of the Anzac story was known by that point and how did the very recent events at Gallipoli influence the celebration of Empire Day.

In terms of what was known of the events at Gallipoli by the time of Empire Day 1915, it appears that there was certainly sufficient detail for at least the core of the Anzac story to have been fashioned.

First official word of the landing on Gallipoli came in the Federal Parliament on 29 April, 1915. The Australasian on 1/5/15 reported the PM (Fisher) stating,

Some days ago the Australian War Expeditionary Forces were transferred from Egypt to the Dardanelles. They have since landed, and have been in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula. News reaches us that the action is proceeding satisfactorily.

Fisher quoted the cable message he had received from the (British) Secretary of State for the Colonies. This cable also spoke of the success of the operation and the ‘gallantry’ of the men. Fisher also quoted the response from the Governor-General:

The Government and people of Australia are deeply gratified to learn that their troops won distinction in their first encounters with the enemy. We are confident that they will carry the King’s colours to further victory.

Overall, the first official commentary on Anzac, less than a week after the landing, presented the action as a success and hailed the fighting quality of the AIF. Critically, there was also official confirmation that the Australian troops had proved themselves in battle. The more expansive and laudatory descriptions of the AIF in action at Gallipoli began to appear within a week. For example, Ashmead-Bartlett’s account appeared in The Argus on 8/5/15. Casualty lists began to appear from early May. However it was not until mid to late June that the papers were full of personal accounts by soldiers recovering in hospital in Egypt. Further, Bean’s account did not appear until mid June. It appeared in The Argus on 18/6/15.

In the Shire of Alberton, the basic story was picked up very quickly. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published Ashmead -Barlett’s account on 12/5/15. The comprehensive account appeared under the headlines: Gallant Australians. Full Story Of Their Fight. Troops Landed In Darkness. Attacked On Seashore. Heroes Of Mons Equalled.

Both nationally and locally, May 1915 saw an increasing flow of information on the Gallipoli campaign. The basis of the Anzac story was established very quickly and universally. The essential features of this story were: the campaign had been a success, even if the notion of ‘success’ had to be increasingly qualified and portrayed in terms broader than military objectives; the AIF had ‘proved itself’ in battle as at least the equal of British troops; the AIF had shown itself to have a distinctly Australian character; Australia’s national identity and the essential character of its people were tied to the AIF; Gallipoli had been a defining moment in Australia’s short history; Australia was robustly and selflessly defending the Empire; and, lastly, it had always been Australia’s manifest destiny to fight for the Empire, and therefore the death and sacrifice of Anzac were inevitable. Critically, Anzac and Empire were intimately linked. The story of Anzac was an extension of the story of Empire.

One way of demonstrating how the Anzac story was so intimately tied to the fundamentals of love for and duty towards the Empire is to look at how, just one month after Gallipoli, the story of Anzac was handled at the Empire Day celebrations in Yarram in 1915. These particular celebrations were directly driven by the local community, in the sense that several prominent locals, despairing that the local council had not taken the initiative to highlight the importance of Empire Day that year, had come together to ensure that due recognition was given. In their planning session – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/5/15 – they referred to the belief that Empire Day that year had … far greater significance and there were references to the ‘present crisis’ and the fact that this year was … more than an ordinary occasion. The present crisis was both the parlous situation in Europe and, of course, the fighting at Gallipoli. Both events underlined the fundamental link between Australia and the Empire or, more accurately, the seamless whole of the relationship.

The celebrations took place on the evening of Empire Day (Monday, 24/5/15). They were reported in the local paper on 26/5/15 under the bold headline: Monster Public Gathering. At the outset, the local council was again criticised for its lack of patriotic spirit. Post 59 has already looked in detail at this event but it is worth recalling just how strong the commitment to the Empire was.

On the night, there were numerous accounts of the greatness of the Empire. In fact, there were so many speakers lined up that several had to give up their turn because the event was proving too drawn out for all the children there. One stirring speech was made by a visiting Presbyterian minister (Cadwallader Jones) who extolled the 1,000 year Empire:

There was something about the British Empire which appealed to Australians, and in the present crisis a sense of its power and grandeur was felt by all. It sent a thrill of independence through us, and we gloried in the legacy which our forefathers had left us; they who had shed their blood to overcome every hindrance which beset them. The flag that had braved all breezes, and all wars for the past thousand years would still be kept flying, and vindicate our right to the Divine possession. (Applause).

After promising that in the present fighting the allies would … triumph as sure as there is a God in heaven, Cadwallader Jones turned his attention to the very recent events at Gallipoli, praised the great deeds of the AIF – the idea of the Anzacs deeds living forever was already clearly apparent – and located the fighting in terms of a broader Imperial struggle against evil, in this case the corrupt Ottoman Empire. At this point the revision of the status of the Turkish enemy – Abdul – was still some time away. Specifically, Cadwallader Jones condemns the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians, an unresolved issue 100 years on:

We have reason to be proud that our nation is having vengeance on the Turks for those awful Armenian atrocities, and will wipe out the Ottoman Empire. He [Cadwallader Jones] never dreamt that he would live to see the day when the Australians would go forth to avenge that awful wrong. What magnificent deeds they had done in the Gallipoli Peninsula cutting off the enemy and trampling them under feet, though at terrible cost, for we are overwhelmed with grief when we read the casualty list. Though our men are laying down their lives to avenge the wrong we will not forget them, their names will be engraved in the hardest tablet of stone, so that our children, and our children’s children, shall know of the heroism and noble deeds of our men in the cause of justice, ever ready to face death itself. (Applause).

The resolution passed by those gathered that night clearly placed the triumph of Gallipoli within its proper Imperial context. Gallipoli had realised the Nation’s Imperial destiny:

This meeting of citizens of Yarram and district, affirms its confidence in the solidarity of our Empire and the integrity of our cause, and while expressing its unbounded admiration of the gallantry of our representatives at the front, and its deepest sympathy with those bereaved, urges upon (sic) all our people to rise to a realisation of our Empire as exemplified by the conduct of our men upon both land and sea.

Besides the speeches and songs that night, there was plenty of visual reinforcement of the ideals of Empire.

A pretty scene was presented when over thirty Yarram school children marched on to the stage, each carrying Union Jacks. The girls were attired in white frocks, and the boys wore red, white and blue ties. The popular songs “Red, White and Blue” and “Sons of the Sea” were given with considerable vim, the choir and audience taking up the chorus.

Whereas the first Anzac Day was, in effect, celebrated as part of Empire Day, by 1918 Anzac Day was a national day in its own right, even if it did not become a public holiday in all states and territories until the end of the 1920s. Moreover, while Empire Day continued to be celebrated it was obvious that in just 3 years the celebration of Anzac Day had already eclipsed that of Empire Day. However, there was a major qualification to this observation, in that it was definitely not the case that by 1918 the celebration of the Empire had in any way diminished. Rather it was just the case that it made more sense – seemed more natural – to focus on the celebration of the Empire as part of Anzac Day. In effect, Empire Day, even though it continued to run as a separate and distinct celebration until the late 1950s – morphed with Anzac Day, just as Anzac Day had been celebrated as part of Empire Day in 1915.

The shift to Anzac Day is very evident in the local paper. There are very few reports of specific Empire Day activities in the local district for May 1918. The paper reported on 31/5/18 of Empire Day Celebrations held at Stacey’s Bridge. The report was very brief and just noted that a … social evening and dance was held on Empire night to raise funds for the Education Department’s April-May appeal. On 5/6/18 there was a report on the success of fundraising by the local Methodist church for Empire Day. There was also a special service for the Methodist congregation for ‘Empire Sunday’.

The detailed reporting of local celebrations for Anzac Day offered a stark contrast. On 19/5/18, the paper published the full school program for Anzac Day. Two days earlier, the paper had published a report of how the (Federal) Minister of Recruiting had requested state education departments to promote bonfires on Anzac night:

… in addition to any other celebration that might be proposed, the head master of public and private schools be asked to arrange that bonfires be erected in school grounds or selected positions with due regard to safety and in charge of responsible officers, and all to be lit simultaneously at 7.30 on Anzac night. He suggested that patriotic songs be rendered by the children, and in view of the seriousness of the present position [The German Spring Offensive], the ceremony be made as impressive as possible.

The 2 references to the schools serve to remind just how important the (Victorian) Education Department was, not just in establishing the practice and form of Anzac Day but in also fashioning the very story of Anzac. There were obviously other influences – for example, the 1916 publication of The Anzac Book edited by Bean – but the role of the various state education departments was critical. Triolo (2011) covers the role of the Victorian Education Department in great detail. And prior to Gallipoli, the Education Department had fashioned and taught the Empire story. Essentially, the state education departments over the course of WW1 – and before and after it – were highly influential in shaping the attitudes of not just the students but their families and the wider community to the War. These departments through their own publications – in Victoria it was the School Paper – also provided an ongoing commentary, if not narrative, of the War. The account was unmistakably Imperial.

As well as the school preparations for Anzac Day, the local paper gave notice (24/4/18) of what was planned by way of other activities on the day. There was advice that between 12 and 2.00 pm local stores would be closed and that a united (Protestant) church service would be held in Thompson’s Hall. In the afternoon, attention was to shift to the school (Yarram SS) for its program and at the same event a number of district soldiers were to be formally welcomed home. At night, a bonfire had been arranged at Port Albert. Lastly, the local Returned Soldiers’ League was to stage a smoke social in Thompson’s Hall. There was concern that the bonfire at Port Albert was going to keep some returned men from the smoke social in Yarram. The smoke social will be covered separately in a coming post as it revealed yet more division and conflict over the issue of repatriation.

The report covering all the events appeared in the local paper the day after Anzac Day.

The welcome home ceremony was a central component of the prescribed school celebrations for Anzac Day 1918.  On the day there were 12 returned soldiers present and of this number 4 were very recently returned. The welcome home meant that a large crowd of locals also assembled at the school for the ceremony. Having the school as the centre of the celebration obviously raised the status and gravitas of the day. As well, the presence of the returned men helped formalise the solemnity. Their presence also had an obvious impact on the speeches made. The opening remarks made by the head teacher – E A Paige – were full of praise for the Anzacs. Their efforts had not only been comparable to the best of the Empire but had in fact exceeded them.

Mr. E. A Paige, head teacher, extended a cordial welcome to all, and addressing the children impressed upon them the importance of commemorating Anzac Day. It was the day our Australian boys landed at Gallipoli against well-armed enemies. They had read of the charge of the Light Brigade, but what the Australians had done put that feat in the shade, when they landed against such odds on 25th April 1915. He extended a hearty welcome to the returned men, and hoped Anzac Day would be solemnly celebrated every year.

Another speaker that day was the Rev C J Walklate, the local Methodist minister and another leading Imperial Loyalist. Walklate made the claim – commonly being made by this point – that Anzac Day was not just a significant event in Australia’s history it was in fact the beginning of Australian history, which history, at least in his view, was very simplistic:

… the 25th April three years ago was the beginning of Australian history. They had read of the exploits of our explorers, who mapped out the land for civilisation to come and make homes for the present generation. But the tragic landing at Gallipoli eclipsed everything else.

The presentation of Gallipoli as some form of ‘tragedy’ had been well established. Sacrifice had been an essential element of this tragedy and the ideal of sacrifice had been instilled in the Anzacs as young boys at school – just like the school children there on that Anzac Day in 1918 – who had read of the glories of the Empire. The Anzac story was the next inevitable chapter of the Empire story. As Walklate put it,

The spirit our boys displayed [at Anzac], was moulded by reading the doings of other brave men in past years.

Another speaker that day was Inspector Greenwood. He told the students that, On 25th April 1915 Australia leaped into history. He spoke about the … records of the deeds of these brave boys. And he described them in an Australian style as ‘dinkum Anzacs’.

Clearly there was an emerging nationalist focus evident: Australian history only begins with Anzac; the AIF is not just the equal of the British Army its troops are better; Australia has effectively ‘come of age’.

However, just as Empire Day and Anzac Day were intimately connected, the new sense of Australian nationalism was still most definitely contained within the broader commitment to Empire. For clear evidence of this seamless connection consider the song – For England – which was prescribed in the formal school program for the day and was to be was sung by the students. Arguably, it was even more suitable for Empire Day than Anzac Day. Moreover, it had been written by an Australian – James Drummond Burns (1895-1915). Burn’s poem had been set to music by L A Adamson, the headmaster of Wesley College. Burns, a corporal in 21 Battalion, was killed at Gallipoli in September 1915. He was 20 yo at the time. He had been born in Victoria and had been a student of Scotch College. In many ways the young Burns embodied the qualities of the Rev George Cox’s ‘Soldier of Christ’ (Post 26).

The song, For England is reproduced below. Its Imperial sentiment and sentimentality are unmistakable. It was created within the environment of the Victorian elite public school but it was sung on Anzac Day in 1918 in all state schools.

For England

The bugles of England were blowing o’er the sea,
As they had called a thousand years, calling now to me;
They woke me from dreaming in the dawning of the day
The bugles of England – and how could I stay?

The banners of England, unfurled across the sea,
Floating out upon the wind, were beckoning to me;
Storm-rent and battle-torn, smoke stained and grey,
The banners of England – and how could I stay?

O England, I heard the cry of those who died for thee,
Sounding like an organ-voice across the winter sea;
They lived and died for England, and gladly went their way,
England, O England – how could I stay.

There are uncanny similarities here with the comments made above by Rev Cadwallader Jones at the Empire Day celebrations in Yarram on May 24,1915. The poem itself appeared in the school’s paper, The Scotch Collegian in May 1915.

One hundred years on, our own celebrations of Anzac Day do not recognise the Imperial basis for the history of the event – indeed, we celebrate it as a distinctly national and nationally-defining event – but in 1918 its Imperial genesis was fundamental, unmistakable and unchallenged. At the time, Anzac Day was an extension of Empire Day. Over time, it effectively replaced it; but the historical drift from Imperialism to Nationalism took a long period of our history. In another irony, in a post-Brexit world, the UK appears keen to reach back to an earlier version of its relationship with Australia, when it was still its ‘Mother Country’.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
The Australasian
The Argus

Triolo, R 2012, Our Schools and the War, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne

For more detail on James Drummond Burns and For England see The Scotch College World War I Commemorative Website


160. A E Barlow

BARLOW Albert Edward (725B)
5B KIA  19/4/18

The Barlow family had been living in the district from the late 1850s. Albert Edward (Bill) Barlow was a grandson of Thomas Barlow (c 1830-1917) who was the patriarch of the family. Thomas had been, variously, a local mailman, contractor, labourer and he had operated a coach service as well as having land at Woranga. He had married Mary Kent and there were 10 children.

Even though Thomas had 7 sons, by the time of WW1 the number of potential Barlow enlistments was limited. Only 5 of the 7 sons were still in the district: Thomas, Charles, Henry/Harry, Caleb and Albert. Moreover, the ages of this second generation were generally too old for enlistment and, at the same time, the ages of the next generation were too young.  Also, Thomas – the second of Thomas’s sons – had 3 daughters. Realistically, there was only a handful of local Barlow men who could have enlisted in WW1: two sons of Charles Barlow – Albert, born 1887 and Frederick, born 1892 – and one son of Caleb Barlow – Albert Edward, born 1897.

More than for most other families, the issue of enlistment was of fundamental significance for the Barlow family. Principally, this was because of the activities of Charles Barlow, brother of Caleb and uncle of Albert Edward Barlow. Charles Barlow was one of the most outspoken Imperial Loyalists in the Shire of Alberton. He was on the local recruiting committee. He spoke regularly at soldiers’ farewells and welcomes. He participated and officiated in all manner of pro-War and Imperial functions, from recruiting drives and pro-conscription campaigns to memorial services and the unveiling of honour rolls at local schools. He was also a local councillor and had served as Shire President just before WW1, and he was elected to the same position in 1918. He also served on the local JP court. Obviously, he had a very high profile in the local community. Yet it appears that neither of his sons enlisted. Rather, it was his nephew, Albert Edward Barlow who enlisted as an eighteen-year-old and who made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’.  Post 147 and Post 148 described how Barlow himself expressed public regret at his sons’ reluctance to enlist and noted how his authority to speak on issues such as sacrifice and patriotism was being questioned, particularly by returned soldiers.

There was yet another twist to this background because it appears that prior to his son enlisting – in January 1916 – Caleb Barlow had himself attempted to enlist. Caleb Barlow, who gave his age as 45 – he was in fact 47 yo – had his medical in Yarram on 16/7/15. Not surprisingly, given his age, his enlistment did not go ahead. However, unlike his brothers – Charles was only 2 years older – Caleb did make the attempt to enlist; and his young son was the only one from the Barlow family at that time who did enlist. It is also possible that Caleb Barlow’s family had not enjoyed the same social and financial success as that of his brothers’ families, particularly the family of Charles Barlow.

Albert Edward Barlow was born in Devon, grew up in the local area and went to North Devon State School. Another student from the same school – Edwin Alford (Post 158) – was killed at Hazebrouck, only a few kilometres from where Barlow was killed 5 days later.  In another cruel link, Albert played football for Devon North and Patrick Sexton (Post 159) , also a keen local footballer, played for the opposing Devon team. Sexton was killed at Mont Kemmel only 2 days before Edward’s death, and, again, only a short distance away. Probably the last football match in which these 2 local footballers played against each other was in early July 1914, when Devon beat North Devon.

Private Barlow enlisted in late January 1916 (29/1/16). He was nearly 19 yo. He had his medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks and was then re-examined in Melbourne. He variously gave his occupation as ‘labourer’ and ‘farm labourer’. His father had a small farm at North Devon so it is likely that besides helping his father, Edward worked on other local farms. On the enlistment form he gave his religion as Church of England but others in the extended Barlow family appear to have been strong Methodists.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published on 5/5/16 a detailed account of the send-off for 4 young soldiers – Albert Barlow, Henry & George McKenzie and Clyde Rendell – from Devon North. The event was held at the local school and it was very well attended. Cr Barlow, Albert’s uncle, attended to award the shire medallion and card – each man also received a wristlet watch from the community – and he was the key speaker. He used the occasion to speak for conscription and asked, Why should not the burden be borne by all, and not by a few. He also offered that, Conscription is the only means of ending this terrible war. He also specifically drew attention to his nephew, noting that, He was glad to see one Barlow representative going – he will not be the last – and these fine men will not be the last lot sent form here. (Applause).

Others there that night gave the usual stirring reminders to the young men:

And remember, boys, if the worst comes to the worst, and you are to die for your country, do it with your back to the wall; ask no mercy and give none. (Loud applause).

The individual soldiers responded and thanked their well-wishers. Albert Barlow … thanked all the ladies and gentlemen, and hoped to be be back once more with them after the war.

However, of the 4 men farewelled that night, Barlow and Rendell were killed and George Mckenzie was seriously wounded and discharged on medical grounds. Only Henry McKenzie survived intact.

Private Barlow joined 37 Battalion and left for England on 3/6/16. He undertook further training in England and then moved across to France in September 1916. At that point, he was taken on strength of 5 Battalion and remained in that unit until his death.

There was an extended period of hospitalisation – he was transferred to hospital back in England – with trench feet from mid December 1916. The convalescence lasted 52 days and even when he was discharged in mid March 1917, the medical notes recorded,

Circulation poor and fairly painful. Feet still tender.

He rejoined his unit in France in early May 1917. However, there were still problems with his feet and at the start of 1918 there was another brief period of hospitalisation.

Private Barlow was another victim of shell fire. However on this occasion, his unit was well behind the front line, near Meteren some 20 Km S-W from Ypres. They had been withdrawn from the front line that very day and one witness statement had the troops as far back as 3 miles from the front. The war diary for the battalion records that on the night of the 19th April,

Billets of Bn. Shelled at night caused casualties 4 ORs killed and 9 ORs wounded.

Private Barlow was one of the 4 killed.

There were numerous witness statements concerning his death. Essentially, he was hit by HE shellfire at about 8.30 pm when the troops were in their billet, an old mill. There was one explicit account that had his head blown off; but another had him hit by a ‘piece of shrapnel to the heart ‘which killed him instantly; and yet another had him ‘hit by a piece of shell through the head’. While these are significant differences, there was consensus that death was instant.

There were several references to the others killed in the same bombardment:

I saw him [Barlow] killed by an H.E. shell which killed 4 and wounded 5 others. 2 kilos out of “Caestres” near River Somme. Buried at Borre, cemetery – cross on grave. Enlisted Victoria 3-6-16. Left with 37th Battn. About 20, 5ft 9ins, stocky built, dark, nicknamed Ben (sic). Came from Gippsland – his people – farmers.    Barnes H. C. 540B    5th Battn H.Q. 7/9/18

I did not see him killed but I helped to dig “Bill” Barlow’s (D. Company) grave in the new cemetery at Borre near Hazebrouch (sic), he was buried with 4 others in the same grave (Pte. Woldron, Pte. Brown, one British soldier who we could not identify and an Australian). I saw the cross giving particulars.    Pte. J. Kendall    5th Battn. 5/9/18

Private William Waldron (7340) was also in 5 Battalion. He was from Stawell. He was killed on the same day as Private Barlow, as was Private Thomas Sheridan Brown (3731), also of 5 Battalion, from Bendigo. Privates Brown, Barlow and Waldron are all buried in Borre British Cemetery. They are all in Plot I, Row A, in graves 14, 15 and 16 respectively.

There were several references in the witness statements to Private Barlow being a good sportsman: footballer, athlete and boxer. One even referred to the fact that his front teeth were missing. He was described as … very well known and liked in the Battn.

It appears that the cable advising of the death came in early May (7/5/18) and news of his death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 10/5/18:

The sad and regretful news came through on Wednesday [8/5/18] that Private A. Barlow, the eldest son of Mr. Caleb Barlow, had been killed in action in France. Naturally a shock came to the parents, when they were informed that the supreme sacrifice had been paid by their son, who was a fine athletic young man, and had enlisted nearly two years ago.

The following death notice appeared in the same edition:

BARLOW – Killed in action on 19th April, somewhere in France, Albert Edward, eldest son of Caleb and Dinah Barlow, brother of Daisy, Percy, Harold and Thomas, aged 20 years and 1 month. On active service 1 year and 11 months. [At that time, Percy would have been either 18 or 19 years old.]

He marched away so bravely,
His young head proudly held;
His footsteps never faltered,
His courage never failed.

When on the battlefield
He calmly took his place;
He fought and died for Britain,
For country and his race.

The midnight stars are shining on a grave I cannot see,
There sleeping without dreaming is the one so dear to me.
No matter how I pray, dear Albert, no matter how I call,
There is nothing left to answer but your photo on the wall.
– Inserted by his loving parents, North Devon.

The personal effects to reach the family in September 1918 were:

Disc, Silver medal, Metal wrist watch (damaged) & strap [presumably the one presented at his farewell], Testament, Wallet, Photos, 3 Cards.

In May 1919, the local solicitor, BP Johnson wrote, on behalf of the mother, to Base Records to ascertain if she was eligible for the ‘mother’s badge’ [First World War Mothers’ and Widows’ Badge]. In June, Base Records replied, attaching a … form of application for the badge issued to the nearest female relative.

Albert Edward Barlow’s name is featured on both Shire of Alberton memorials – roll of honor and soldiers’ memorial – and it also appears on the honor rolls for the state schools of Devon North and Alberton and also on the roll for the district of Devon North.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for BARLOW Albert Edward
Roll of Honour: Albert Edward Barlow
First World War Embarkation Roll: Albert Edward Barlow
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Albert Edward Barlow
Honour and Awards: Albert Edward Barlow

159. P J Sexton

SEXTON Patrick john  640
XXII Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment KIA 17/4/18

Patrick Sexton was the second of my wife’s great uncles to be killed in WW1. The first was Patrick Mills (see Post 80). Both these men were from the Shire of Alberton and their personal stories were the initial incentive for the blog, Shire at War. My wife’s grandmother – Maggie Sexton – was one of 2 sisters of Patrick Sexton.

Patrick Sexton was born in Yarram and his family ran a dairy farm at Stacey’s Bridge. The family were long-term residents of the district. Patrick’s grandfather, originally from Ireland (Kilrush), had been in the Alberton district from the mid 1850s. Patrick’s father – John Sexton – had been born at Yarram in 1862. Patrick had been born there in 1895. In the 1915 rate book, the father was described as a dairy farmer with approximately 200 acres at Alberton West. Patrick’s mother was Caroline Sexton (Cauley).

There was a younger brother – Norman – who was born in 1901 and was consequently too young to enlist. Norman was often mentioned in the local paper as the accompanying musician (pianist) at various fund-raisers and concerts during the War. There were also 2 sisters – Molly and Maggie.

As a young man Patrick Sexton was certainly well-known in the district. There was a detailed report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (6/11/14) on the farewell held at Stacey’s Bridge for Pat Sexton and 2 other young men – Jack Cantwell and Aloysius Cotter. The report noted that all three had been members of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club. Additionally, Patrick Sexton had been very involved in the local football competition and played for Devon. One other local who had enlisted with this group but who was not able to get leave to attend that night was William Edward Babington. Babington had been the captain of the Devon football team. Sexton, Cantwell and Cotter were Catholics and Babington was Presbyterian.

The farewell that night was one of the very first held in the district and the comments made reflected the early innocence of what was to come. As pointed out that night, the lads were very young and there was still the chance that they would not even get overseas to fight. Even if they did fight, the clear expectation was that those wishing them well would … welcome them home again safe and sound (Applause).

It was a credit to the Stacey’s Bridge district that four young fellows had volunteered, and they might well feel proud of them. It did not seem so long ago that they were boys going to school. They could not help calling them boys now, for they were only 18 or 19 years of age. A word of praise was due to their parents, who did not raise the slightest obstacle to their sons’ desire to go to fight. If they did leave Australian shores they would look back on the gathering here with a great degree of pleasure. When in other climes their thoughts would fly to the land of their birth, and the many friends in the little corner of Stacey’s Bridge, who had met to do them honor.

Of the four farewelled that night, Sexton and Babington would be killed: Babington at Messines in 1917 (Post 121) and Sexton at Mont Kemmel in 1918. Cotter and Cantwell both survived the War and they returned to Australian in early 1919. Cotter died in 1930, at the age of 34 years. He had suffered from pleurisy in the Middle East.

Patrick John Sexton enlisted as one of the large, initial group of volunteers from the Shire (Post 11). This was on 16/9/14 and the group was farewelled from the Alberton Railway Station on 22/9/14.

At the time of enlistment Patrick was 19 yo and therefore permission was required from his parents. There is a note from his father, John Sexton, dated 3 days after the enlistment, giving such permission,

This is to certify that I am willing for P.J. Sexton to join the Expeditionary Force Light Horse.

Trooper Sexton on enlistment 1914. Courtesy of Marie Sexton, niece of P J Sexton, daughter of Norman Sexton.

Trooper Sexton enlisted in the 4 Light Horse Regiment. His group left Melbourne on 22/12/14. Unfortunately, Trooper Sexton’s service file does not record his movement over 1915. His own short diary states that he reached Egypt on February 4, 1915. His unit, 4 Light Horse Regiment, served on Gallipoli from late May 1915 to the evacuation in December. His diary also records that he was on a troopship off Gallipoli on 25/4/15. However, he did not disembark and after a week aboard on the transport, the ship returned to Alexandria.  The diary suggests that he spent most – if not all the period from May to December 1915 – in Egypt. Some men were held back in Egypt to care for the regiment’s horses. However, the more likely explanation was that he was assigned to other duties.  In his service file, there is a brief reference to him rejoining his unit (4LHR) on 22/1/16 after a temporary attachment to Anzac HQ in Cairo. Additionally, his own diary records several attempts by him over the second half of 1915 to be re-assigned to 4 LHR.   It also appears that at least one of those he enlisted with – Jack Cantwell 607 – was also assigned to Anzac HQ at some point. The same might have even applied to another friend, Aloysius Cotter 606. As well, there is also the possibility that some or all of these men had served some time on Gallipoli before being attached to Anzac HQ (see Holloway 2011).

Trooper Sexton’s diary also records that he spent some time with his brother-in-law, Richard Slater, also of 4 LHR, in late September 1915 before he – Slater – was sent to Gallipoli. Slater had enlisted about 3 months after Sexton.

Patrick Sexton and his brother-in-law Richard Slater in Egypt 1916. Slater had been a teacher at Stacey’s Bridge. He married Molly Sexton. Courtesy of Pamela Cashen, great niece of Patrick Sexton.

When the Australian infantry divisions left Egypt for the Western Front in early 1916, they were accompanied by small units of mounted troops drawn from the Light Horse regiments. Trooper Sexton was in one of 2 squadrons taken from 4 Light Horse Regiment for this purpose. There was also a New Zealand squadron and the unit became known as II ANZAC Mounted Regiment. On the Western Front these mounted troops served in a variety of roles from traffic control to reconnaissance. They were regularly attached to other units. Often they acted in dismounted roles. When the Australian Corps was formed in November 1917, the unit became XXII Corps Mounted Regiment (XXII Corps Light Horse Regiment). Throughout 1917, the unit was involved in heavy fighting, from Messines to Passchendaele.

For his part, Trooper Sexton appears to have undertaken extensive training in anti-aircraft defence with the (French) Hotchkiss gun. He also completed specialist training with the Lewis gun and by the end of 1917 was himself conducting training classes. At the same there there were observation duties in the front line. In October 1917, he was in charge of a forward observation and listening post at Passchendaele. There was constant bombardment and his bravery and effectiveness in maintaining communication saw him awarded the Military Medal (Holloway 2011). There was an exceptionally brief note in his own diary for 4/11/17: I was awarded the Military Medal. There was a more fulsome account reported in the local paper on 16/1/18:

Word has been received that Corporal Patrick Sexton, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Sexton, Stacey’s Bridge, has been awarded the military medal for devotion to duty on the field in France. Corporal Sexton was amongst the first to volunteer in this district, and left Australia in 1914. For the first 18 months he saw service in Egypt, and 20 months ago was amongst other men picked for despatch work and sent to France.

Corporal P J Sexton MM. 1917. Courtesy of Pamela Cashen, great niece of Patrick Sexton.

Corporal Sexton was killed on 17/4/18. The cable advising the family was dated 2/5/18.
It appears that at the time of his death, his unit had been sent to help defend the British lines at Mont Kemmel. As already indicated, there was an established pattern of troops from XXII Corps Light Horse Regiment being used to supplement other forces. Unfortunately, it is difficult to locate war diary records for the unit but it appears that Corporal Sexton was killed on the day the German launched their offensive against Mont Kemmel. The casualty rate for XXII Corps Light Horse Regiment in the fighting on Kemmel in April 1918 was the highest it experienced over the entire War.

The German attack on Mont Kemmel was preceded by intense bombardment. The initial assault was repulsed. However, the Germans did manage to overrun the positions later in April (25/4/18).

Corporal Sexton was killed in the German bombardment. There are many witness statements describing how he was killed by shellfire.

Sexton was a Cpl., a tall man, his home was at Stacey’s Bridge, Yarram, Victoria. On April 17 we were at Kemmel hill when a shell burst close to Sexton, and he was smothered by the debris. He received the full force of the shell in the back, his spine being broken. He was buried close to where he fell. A stick and indication disc were placed over the grave. I was only 10 yards away and saw him killed and buried.   Sgt Eric Buchanan, 1576   17.8.18

Re 640. Cpl. P. J. Sexton of D. Squadron XXII Corps Cavalry Regt. This N.C.O. belonged to my particular troop and I regret to state was killed some time ago at Mont Kemmel. He was buried on the field on the slopes of Mont Kemmel. If it will assist you at all I’d like to mention that I have just written to his mother in Australia, giving her all the particulars available.    Claude. E. Apps. Lieut. D. Squadron. XXII Corps Cavalry. Rgt. France    14-8-18

The temporary grave was lost, most probably when the Germans overran the position later in the month. Mont Kemmel was recaptured in September 1918, by US units.

Corporal Sexton’s name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial. In the Shire of Alberton, the name was recorded on both the Roll of Honor and the Soldiers’ Memorial. It was also recorded on the separate memorial for the district of Stacey’s Bridge.

There was extensive reporting in the local paper of Corporal Sexton’s death. Presumably, this was because he was so well known and also because he had been one of the very first to enlist. He had been in the AIF for more than three and a half years. On 8/5/18 the following detailed report was published in the paper:

The sad tidings reached Mr. and Mrs. John Sexton, Stacey’s Bridge, on Friday [3/5/18], that their son, Corporal Patrick Sexton, had been killed on active service. The news came as a great blow to the family and his many friends. Pat was in his 24th year, and had seen 3 years and 8 months’ active service. He left Australia at Xmas 1914 as a light horseman, but in Egypt was put in charge of a machine gun. He gained distinction on the battlefield, and for his bravery and devotion to duty was awarded the military medal. He was with his friend, E. Babington, when he fell in the Messiness battle [This was E (Ted) Babington the former captain of the Devon football team], and in all engagements up to the last Pat never received a scratch. It is thought he received the fatal wound at Arras, between 14th and 17th April [He was in fact killed at Mont Kemmel on 17/4/18], when the Australians did such splendid work. Pat. was a noted horseman, and for rough-riding at the Broadmeadows camp before embarking won a champion contest. None could compare with him. As a member of the Stacey’s Bridge rifle club he ranked amongst the best shots, and won quite a number of trophies. He also excelled as a footballer with the Devon team, eight of which have paid the supreme sacrifice, including their genial captain (E. Babington). Pat led an exemplary life, a strict teetotaller and non-smoker. This is the third member of the Stacey’s Bridge rifle club that has fallen.

On the same day (8/5/18), 2 death notices from the family appeared in the local paper. The first, ‘inserted by his sorrowing father, mother, sisters and brother’ noted that he had been killed in action ‘somewhere in France’. The second was inserted by his younger brother Norman – at the time Norman would have been 17 yo – and featured a poem which pointed to a strong Catholic faith.

Though my heart is full of sorrow,
And my eyes are dim with tears:
There is one thing I am proud of,
He went as a volunteer.

I pictured you safe returning, Pat,
And I urged to clasp your hand.
But God has postponed our meeting,
It will be in a brighter land.

Immaculate heart of Mary,
Your prayers for him extol;
O, sacred heart of Jesus,
Have mercy on his soul.

There was also a reference the same day to a ‘memorial mass for the repose of the soul of the late Corporal Patrick Sexton’ which was to behold ‘in Stacey’s Bridge hall on Sunday, 19th, at 11 o’clock’.

In July 1918 (3/7/18) the local paper reproduced 2 letters sent to the family with details of the death. The first was by an unnamed ‘comrade’.

A comrade, writing home, says that Trooper Pat. Sexton was “buried by a shell, and by the time they dug him out he was dead. The doctor said his back was broken, and that he must have been killed instantly. The shell that got him had gas in it, so if he had not been hurt, the gas would have smothered him. I was there at the time. All the boys thought the world of Paddy, and I can tell you he was one of the best.

The second was from Major Roy McLeish DSO who had been attached to ’22 Anzac Light Horse’ / ‘XXII Corps Mounted Regiment’ from the middle of 1917 and who appears to have been the CO at the time of Sexton’s death. The praise is fulsome. He wrote to the mother:

I hardly know how to write to you to tell you of the death of your brave son. He was killed instantly by a shell early on the morning of 18th (sic) April. His death has affected me most deeply, and also all my squadron. He was looked up to by everyone, and respected as the finest character in the regiment, and as being the bravest man we knew. I had been with him all day, and he had only left me a short time before to go to his trench. … Mrs. Sexton, I can’t write any more to you. I know how you must feel. My own mother died not long ago, and I know what a terrible grief it is. This awful war has saddened many homes. You have the consolation of knowing that your son died died in action after a glorious military career, regretted and mourned by everyone who knew him.

Corporal Sexton’s effects were returned to his family in December 1918: Pair of binoculars, prayer book, wallet, diary, photos, cards

The Military Medal was presented to his parents in Melbourne. Most likely this event took place at the time of the Melbourne Show as the mother indicated in a letter to Base Records in late August 1918 that ‘Show Week would suit’, otherwise the commitments of the dairy farm made it too difficult for both parents to make the trip to Melbourne. The Melbourne Royal Show in 1918 opened on Monday 23 September.

Sexton family history tells of the intense grief that followed Patrick’s death. The father died in 1924 and the family farm was sold not long after. It was the classic case of the son who had everything going for him and the son who should have taken over the family farm never returning from the War. After the sale of the farm at Stacey’s Bridge, the only member of this branch of the Sexton family to remain in the district was Maggie. In 1922, Maggie had married Frederick Mills, brother of Patrick Mills who was killed at Pozieres. Their farm was at Carrajung South.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for SEXTON Patrick
Roll of Honour: Patrick John Sexton
First World War Embarkation Roll: Patrick John Sexton
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Patrick John Sexton
Honours and Awards: Patrick John Sexton

Holloway, D 2011, Endure and Fight: A detailed history of the 4th Light Horse Regiment, AIF, 1914-19 Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine, France and Belgium, Dr David Holloway, The 4th Light Horse Regiment Memorial Association, Port Melbourne, Victoria.

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

Trooper Sexton kept a brief personal note-book of his time in the AIF, but the contents are sparse and confined to routine matters like the dates of pay. The tone of the writing is almost completely devoid of emotion. The single reference to being awarded the military medal – I was awarded the Military Medal – was typical.

158. E J Alford

ALFORD Edwin James 6456
8 B  KiA 14/4/18

Edwin Alford was born in Maffra in 1885. He was the third of 8 children. According to the 1915 rate book, his parents – Henry John Alford (snr) and Ann Jane Alford (Ray) – were farmers (130+ acres) at North Devon.

Edwin was relatively old – 28 yo – when he enlisted and he was married with 2 young children. A younger brother – William Frank Alford, born 1888 – enlisted at the same time and he was also married. There is a reference to the 2 brothers taking time to sort out their affairs before they enlisted. It appears that there was an arrangement whereby the oldest brother – Alfred George Alford born 1882 – looked after the land (77 acres at North Devon) held jointly in his and Edwin’s names. At the same time, William’s share in the 133 acres held jointly by himself, his father and another older brother – Henry John (jnr) born 1883 – was picked up by the older brother and father. The basic arrangement appeared to be that the 2 oldest brothers stayed behind to run the farm(s) and the younger brothers, even though they were married, enlisted.

There was also another much younger brother – Charles, born 1896 – who enlisted later in the War, in September 1917. Overall, of the 5 brothers, the 3 younger ones enlisted and the 2 oldest stayed on the farms. At the same time, the family arrangement was possibly even more involved than this because William Frank Alford, on his enlistment papers, gave his wife’s address as South Melbourne.

The family was certainly well known in the local area. All the brothers are recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and Edwin’s name is listed on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. In addition, the names appear on the honor rolls of the various schools they attended – Wonwron, North Devon, Tarraville – as well as the honor roll for Devon North District and the one for the Methodist Circuit. When Edwin’s wife – Catherine Alford – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

As indicated, Edwin James (commonly known as Ted) and William Frank (commonly known as Frank) Alford enlisted together on 24/7/16 in 8 Battalion. They had sequential regimental numbers. They both gave their occupation as ‘dairy farmer’. Edwin gave his religion as Methodist but Frank gave his as Salvation Army.

Prior to embarkation (2/10/16) there was a formal farewell for the 2 Alford brothers held in the Shire Hall at Yarram on 1/9/16. It was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 6/9/16. The 2 brothers who were both … well known throughout the district … were described as … stalwart young men who had proved good footballers, of the stamp required to uphold Australia’s reputation in the battle field. They had also, by their enlistment, … set an example to the rest of the young fellows. B P Johnson, who was one of the speakers, … hoped they would have a glorious career, and assured them of a hearty welcome when all the boys came home. They were each presented with the Shire medallion and card.

Frank did survive the War and returned to Australia in May 1919. The third, and youngest, brother to enlist – Charles (Charlie) Stanley Alford – also survived and returned just one week after Frank. In 1920, the father – H J Alford of Yarram – was presented with a gold medal by the Returned Soldiers’ Committee of Traralgon in recognition of the fact that he had three sons who had enlisted. The special occasion was reported in the local paper on 11/8/20.

Edwin enlisted in Melbourne in July 1916 and 2 months later (1/10/16) his group of reinforcements for 8 Battalion embarked for England. He reached England in late November (21/11/16) and then proceeded to France in February 1917. He was hospitalised in March 1917 for a short time and then again for a month, with ‘trench feet’, in October 1917. He had 3 weeks leave in February 1918. He was killed in action about two months later, on 14/4/18.

Private Alford’s body was not recovered and his name is recorded on the memorial at Villers- Bretonneux. The cable advising of his death was dated 6/5/18.

There is no record in his file of any personal items ever being returned to his family.
His wife – Catherine Stanley Alford – received a pension of £2 per fortnight, and there was another allocation of £1 for his son – Stanley Thomas Alford – and another of 15/- for his daughter, Lucy Ray Alford. The pensions all dated from 9/7/18. There was also some money from funeral insurance he had taken with the Grand Lodge.

Private Alford was killed on the afternoon of April 14, 1918. On the night of 13 April, 8 Battalion had been sent to the front at Hazebrouck to stop the German advance along the frontier with Belgium. The allies were defending – but being pushed back over– ground that had been won at great cost over the previous year. 8 Battalion stayed in the line near the town of Vieux Berquin until the night of 19 April. The battalion diary shows that over the 6 days there were 129 casualties, including 19 deaths. Some idea of the intensity of the fighting can be taken from an appendix in the diary which details twelve recommendations for military awards over the period 13 -16 April, with most in fact for acts of bravery on 14 April.

One of the awards – the Military Medal- was recommended for, and subsequently awarded to, L/Cpl Albert Hill (4225), a 23 year-old farmer from Warrnambool. The citation gives more background on the fighting,

On the 14th April while the Battalion was in the line in front of VIEUX BERQUIN, L/Cpl HILL distinguished himself by gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy attack.
When one of the advanced posts had been blown out and all the garrison killed or wounded, L/Cpl Hill went out and brought in the wounded men under heavy fire. Returning to the demolished post he dug out the Lewis Gun and endeavoured to get same into action against the enemy who were advancing. Unfortunately the gun was too badly smashed, but his threatening and resolute attitude with same had the effect of checking the enemy until the position was restored. His audacity and courage during the action was invaluable and set a fine example to his comrades.

This particular soldier – Bert Hill – gave one of the witness statements concerning the death of Private Alford on the same day. He wrote,

He [Alford] was killed by a bomb and [he] was also a machine gunner and was never buried and was killed in the trench which was [subsequently] taken by the Huns.

There was another witness statement corroborating the account of Private Alford being killed by shell fire. It was from F T Lewis (6296):

Casualty was in the front line at 16 post on the Harsbrouch (sic) Front Vieux Berguin. A minenwerfer shell exploded on the post killing casualty instantly. I was 10 yards away at the time the shell exploded but I saw his body immediately afterwards. He was most severely wounded all over, but I do not know where he was buried.

However, as was often the case, there were other statements which offered a different account of the death. In this second version, Private Alford was shot in the head. In fact, most witness statements gave this version. For example, Corporal R W Carr wrote:

He was a M. Gnr. In our Pltn., and while working his gun he was hit by a bullet from enemy machine gun, the bullet striking him in the head, and he only lived 5 minutes afterwards. .. Owing to heavy casualties in our Pltn., we were unable to remove him; and he was left in the trench where he died.

There was also a witness statement from his brother (W F Alford 6457) that accepted this version of events. The information it was based on was second-hand.

Re my brother 6456 Pte. E. J. Alford, 8th Battn. I was not with him at the time of his death but his officer gave me all the information. He was killed by German gun fire in an outpost close to the village of Vieux-Berquin. He was killed at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday April 14th 1918, about 2 hours after [later] the Germans captured the post, and our boys were unable to bury him. I have written home to my people and told them all the information I got concerning his death.

There was another witness statement, by Private L Richards, which corroborated the detail about Private Alford being killed by machine gun fire. It also described the unsuccessful attempts by the brother (William) to recover the body:

I was on the flank of the advanced party to which Alford belonged. The party came under the fire of 6 machine guns. All the men (32 in number) were killed. It was impossible to recover the bodies. Alford’s brother made several unsuccessful attempts. [The reference to 32 dead is not supported by the battalion war diary.]

Finally, on 23/8/18, the local paper reproduced a letter to Private Alford’s wife by the commanding officer of 8 Battalion at the time her husband was killed. This account stated how popular and what a fine soldier her husband had been; and it described his death thus:

Early in the engagement your husband, who was courageously standing to his gun (he was in a Lewis machine gun team) received a bullet through the head, death being instantaneous.

Possibly, at least some of the inconsistencies in the reporting of the death can be explained in terms of efforts to make it as ‘quick’ and ‘clean’ as it could be for the family left behind.

The death was reported in the local paper on 17/5/18.

The sad news reached Yarram on Monday [13/5/18] that Private Edward Alford had been killed in action on 14th April, and as might be expected came as a severe blow to his wife and parents (Mr. and Mrs. A.[?] J. Alford. “Ted” as he was more familiarly known, was a very fine type of young man, being of splendid physique, and those who remember him in pre-war days on the football field, well know what a splendid athletic lad he was. As he leaves a widow and two children to mourn their sad loss, much sympathy is expressed for them. He was a machine-gunner, and was apparently killed in the recent German offensive. Two brothers, Frank and Charlie, are members of the A.I.F.

The father- H J Alford –  had been a prominent speaker at farewells from Womerah for enlisted men. He had acted in this capacity from the start of the War. In his comments at these events he often expressed contempt for ‘shirkers’ and always pressed the ideals of loyalty and duty. He was also a public backer of conscription. Not surprisingly, when his son was killed he described the death in terms of the views and ideals he had so publicly espoused. At the unveiling of the school honor roll at Wonwron – reported on 7/8/18 – he was one of the key speakers:

Mr. H. J. Alford stated he was pleased to be present. He had three sons at the war, and one had paid the supreme sacrifice, but as a father he would sooner any of them die a hero than [live] a shirker.

In the same speech he supported the push for repatriation and praised the work of the RSSILA and local groups in supporting the men returning. He also wanted the same groups to call to account those who had not volunteered. There needed to be some form of ‘payback’. As he put it, he wanted the groups to … make things better for the heroes – and worse for the shirkers.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for ALFORD Edwin James
Roll of Honour: Edwin James Alford
First World War Embarkation Roll: Edwin James Alford [under regimental number 6459]
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Edwin James Alford

157. E R V Foote

FOOTE Ernest Rolleston Vicars 342

23 B  KiA 10/04/18

Ernest Foote was born in Portland. His father – Major R Vicars Foote – was with the Bank of Victoria and the family moved with his various appointments and promotions. When Ernest enlisted in February 1915, his father was managing the branch at Warrnambool. Ernest himself had had a close association with Warrnambool and had attended the Warrnambool College where he had been in the cadets for 2 years. When he completed the information for (National) Roll of Honour, the father in fact identified Warrnambool as the town with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the same time there was a strong connection with the Shire of Alberton and Sergeant Foote’s name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is also recorded on the honor roll of the Yarram Club.

It appears that after some work in the Bank of Australasia in Warrnambool, and other rural centres, Ernest Foote left banking and moved to the Shire of Alberton where he took up farming. It further appears that he worked with his brother who had land – 130 acres – at Won Wron. The brother was Edgar Reginald Vicars Foote. Oddly, neither brother appeared on the 1915 electoral roll and only Edgar Reginald appears in the rate book. Yet despite not having land in his own name, Ernest was clearly working as a farmer. After he enlisted there was a sale of his stock — dairy cattle – and property, including farm machinery. On his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as ‘farmer’.

Ernest Foote was heavily involved in the local football competition. He played for Devon North and appears to have been the captain. His name regularly appeared in the ‘best players’. He was also, unfortunately, the umpire at the infamous match in May 1914 when things got well out of hand – there was money waged on the outcome of the game – and one of the players was seriously injured and subsequently died from his injury. The event is covered in detail in the very first post (Post 1). Some of the blame for what happened was attributed to poor umpiring on the day.

There was one more connection to the district. Ernest’s (step) mother – Georgina McKenzie – who had married R J Vicars Foote in 1909 was the daughter of Donald Thomas and Mary Ann McKenzie. This McKenzie family was one of the key grazing and business families in the Shire of Alberton, and the father had been Shire President.

Ernest Foote enlisted in Yarram on 12/2/15. His medical was with Dr Rutter. The date for his railway warrant (#89) issued by the Shire Secretary was 16/2/15. He was 28 yo and single. His religion was Church of England. Like so many others from the district, his enlistment papers suggest that he was to join the Light Horse, but within 6 weeks of enlistment Private Foote joined 23 Battalion.

When he completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, the father indicated that two of Ernest’s brothers also enlisted and there was a sister who served as a nursing sister in Egypt (including Gallipoli) and France. The two brothers were Rupert Vicars Foote (10847) who enlisted aged 28 in January 1916 and Richard Jeffrey Vicars Foote (1538) who enlisted in March 1916 aged 36.

Both brothers survived the War and returned in mid 1919. The oldest brother – Richard Jeffrey – was wounded twice, seriously. The sister, Eveline (Evelyn) Mary Vicars Foote enlisted as nurse – Staff Nurse, Australian Army Nursing Service – in June1917. She was 32 at the time and single. She moved to France in May 1918. Her record indicates that prior to formal enlistment in the AIF in 1917 she had already worked for two years in Egypt as a nurse in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (reserve). She took on this service a few months after her younger brother Ernest had enlisted and well before the other two brothers joined up. She returned to Australia in September 1919. There were also two brothers-in-law who … were also at the front in France for 3 years. Obviously there was a strong family commitment to the War effort.

Private Foote’s unit left Australia in May 1915 (10/5/15). He was in action on Gallipoli in late August and, within a week of the fighting, he was hospitalised on Lemnos (7/9/15). He then rejoined his unit on the Gallipoli Peninsula some 3 weeks later (28/9/15). He was hospitalised again in late November (30/11/15) not long before the evacuation. Initially, his condition was described as ‘shell shock’ but there was a subsequent entry that recorded it as a shrapnel wound to the face. This time he was transferred to hospital on Malta and did not rejoin his battalion until March 1916. This was just 2 weeks before the unit left for France. His unit disembarked at Marseilles on 26/3/16.

In April 1916 he was promoted to lance corporal and then in July to corporal. He was hospitalised with quinsey (13/9 – 23/9) in Belgium. He was then promoted to the rank of sergeant in October 1916. There was another extended period of hospitalisation beginning on 10/11/16. This time the condition was described as ‘blistered feet’, although other papers in his file refer to the condition as ‘trench feet’. He was moved from casualty clearing station to ambulance train and then to hospital in England (Dartford). He was discharged after nearly 3 months in hospital, in late January 1917.

On his discharge from hospital in England it looks as if he moved to several training and command-type postings in England. There is a reference that in March 1917 – he was attached to No 1 Command Depot (Wareham) –  he was charged with ‘Neglect of duty in that he allowed two prisoners to escape’. The report notes that he was ‘severely reprimanded’.

Sergeant Foote returned to France in June 1917 and rejoined 23 Battalion. There was more hospitalisation, in France, from September 1917 with ‘cellulitis elbow’. He rejoined the unit in mid December. There was a week’s leave in Paris in January 1918. There was yet more hospitalisation, in France, in January 1918 – this time ‘double quinsey’ – and he rejoined his unit in early February. There was nearly 3 weeks leave in England in March 1918 (6/3- 24/3). Then on 10/4/18 he was killed in action, just over two weeks after returning from leave.

At the time of Sergeant Foote’s death, the battalion was in the front line near Baizieux, not far from Albert. It was just over 2 weeks since the German offensive – Operation Michael – had pushed the front line back all along the old Somme battlefield; although by this time the German onslaught had faltered. The battalion records show that in this period the unit was in the process of consolidating the line, establishing communications and repairing the shelters and deepening the trenches. The same records reveal how the battalion was using patrols to push out and secure enemy posts that offered a tactical advantage. It looks like Sergeant Foote was killed in one such action in the forward position. The battalion war diary includes a specific entry on his death. Interestingly it is dated 9 April, one day before the official date of his death.

Sgt E R V Foote shot by sniper about 7 am while endeavouring to close with hostile patrol in outpost line…

The same entry also noted the length of his service. It stated that he … was an original man who had been through most engagements with the Battalion.

The death was also reported in an edition (15/3/18) of 23 Battalion’s journal [included as Appendix 18 in the April 1918 Battalion War Diary]. The journal was called ‘The Voice of the Battalion’ . The brief reference, written within days of his death, emphasised his length of service,

Sgt E. R. W. (sic) Foote, who made the supreme sacrifice, was one of the “originals”. His number was 342.

The cable advising of the death was dated 23/4/18. Sergeant Foote was buried ‘2 miles E. of Bresle and 2 miles S.W. of Albert’, the location of what became the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension.

News of Sergeant Foote’s death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1/5/18:

We regret to record the death of another district hero, in the person of Sergeant Ernest Rolleston Vicars-Foote. He served three years in Egypt, Gallipoli and France, and was killed in action on 10th April. He was son of Major Vicars-Foote, Bank of Victoria, Geelong.

There was a more detailed account of his life in the paper on 5/6/18. It gave a vivid account of his service:

He served in Egypt, Gallipoli and France, and was in hospital in Malta for some time. He was wounded and buried by an exploding shell in Gallipoli. Wounded again in France, was in hospital twice with trench feet, and suffered six times from quinsy. On the voyage from Egypt to France he travelled on the troopship “Southland” which was torpedoed. Notwithstanding the severe strain imposed by his many vicissitudes, he stuck manfully and gallantly to duty and to the work he had set out to accomplish, till on 10th April he made the supreme sacrifice of his life.

The will left all ‘real and personal estate’ to the father. The father also received the personal effects of Sergeant Foote which were despatched in May and June 1918 and included:

2 Discs, Housewife, Pipe, Whistle, Knife, Badges, Wallet, Photos, Writing pad, Manicure set and Scarf, Photos, Cards, Pr Knee Pads.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for FOOTE Ernest Rolleston Vicars
Roll of Honour: Ernest Rolleston Vicars Foote
First World War Embarkation Roll: Ernest Rolleston Vicars Foote

Upadate June 2022

Research by Cate Remfrey, Yarram and District Historical Society, indicates that Rupert Vicars Foote was the cousin, and not the brother, of Ernest Rolleston Vicars Foote.